Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Confession of Selfishness

During lunch today, I was reading Chris Brady's article titled “Giving” in the book Leadership: Tidbits and Treasures, which he co-wrote with Orrin Woodward. I was struck by the following the paragraph:

“Generosity knows no calculation. It knows nothing about “self.” It is the gracious outpouring of the heart that results in material aid, spiritual assistance, caring, and love freely given to someone else who is in no position to repay the favor in any way. True generosity is the hallmark of a mature leader’s heart.”

Now, here is the confession part – if there is one thing that I struggle with continually, it is selfishness. Not necessarily of an aggressive nature. I will compromise, not because it is of benefit to the other person, but to avoid any unpleasantness that I dislike facing. I may be sneakily selfish by taking the best piece of pie for myself. I may calculate how I will appear or what others will think of me when I do something for someone else. I like to shop for myself more than my kids (I can hear the other mothers gasping out loud.). Any lesson I deliver to my kids about being selfish, wanting to go first or have a longer turn … is as much for my benefit as it is for theirs.

A little over a year ago, I came across an idea, in a devotional, that has been my mantra…I am slowly plastering it around our home so that we can all be directed by it. In her December 29th entry of her devotional, Morning Jam Sessions, Betty Malz wrote “In Sunday School, they taught me that real JOY was Jesus, Others, You and in that order!” This has helped me teach our children about priorities. It has helped me with my own attitude issues when they need adjusting. And it works! When I don’t want to serve someone else, I remember that I should serve them out of love for serving Jesus…no matter how deserving they are or are not. Now this will always be a work in progress for me, because I am human (Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God). But I have guidance and will keep moving forward.

So, I will let someone else have the fries that fall to the bottom of the McDonald’s bag. I will do laundry for others, even if I am not out of clothes. And, I will watch the movie that he wants to watch. The little daily victories will lead to the habit of true generosity.

Note: I made an error about the author of the referenced article titled "Giving". It has been corrected. My apologies.

Counting Blessings

Well, the holiday season has wrapped up ... the decorations have come down ... and we have a little more daylight everyday (we have to hang on to something in Michigan). You have probably been bombarded with lots of warm and fuzzy messages in the past couple of months... but have you really taken them in and reflected on what there is to be thankful for ... what are your blessings? We just returned from a family vacation to America's southwest. Our various travels and activities really gave me some things for which to be grateful. (Side note: I hate trying not to end a sentence with a preposition. Who made up that rule? Is it Biblical? Am I jeopardizing someone’s moral standing by exposing them to such grammar? I may start to look for them in the Bible so I know if it is immoral. Back to our program…)

First of all, just consider the blessing of Family -- people who you love and that love you, regardless of your past or weirdness. Just having those people that you can be you with is great. There are so many broken homes ... kids in the foster care system ... messed up priorities. Be thankful for your family and all of the good and bad that go along with it.

Be thankful that you are an American citizen and live in THE United States of America. Early in our trip, we drove from San Diego over to Arizona. There was a point along the highway where you could see the Mexican border, the fence, and U.S. Border Patrol vehicles patrolling the landscape. We went through a few Border Patrol checkpoints. It really brought home to me how easy it is to take where I live and how I live, with all of our freedoms, for granted. I didn't have to sneak into the US or fill out an application. I was blessed to be born here ... through no effort or talent on my part. During another activity of our trip, we had the privilege of getting a view at some of our naval fleet. It took my breath away to consider those that have served and those that serve today. Be thankful for these brave souls. Be thankful for our country and be thankful for what it REALLY means to be an American.

Our entire trip was punctuated at various points with the opportunity to just ponder God's imagination and His mercy to share it with us. We drove through the mountains. We drove through the desert. We saw snow in the desert -- very cool! We saw migrating gray whales just outside the harbor of San Diego. We experienced our smallness and His Greatness in all of those places. At the San Diego Wild Animal Park (better than the zoo, IMO), we could marvel at His creativity, and His sense of humor perhaps, as we saw giraffes with necks that reach up to the sky and rhinos wearing their own armor. It all made me think about the Garden of Eden and how it must have been for Adam to meet each of these creatures and assign them names. How did he pick them? And isn't it funny how each name fits its owner. What a blessing to see them and to experience them with those I care about most.

But those are easy topics to pinpoint blessings, aren't they? What blessings do we have that we don't think of until, they are gone or threatened?

This Christmas, we received a beautiful framed cross-stitch project from my mother-in-law. This was project of love and thankfulness after a surgery that improved her vision enough to return to a beloved hobby. My friend, Terri, had surgery to remove a brain tumor that was threatening her ability to swallow and smile. Are you thankful for the ability to see, hear, swallow, smile, walk, dance, run? Have you recognized the blessing of your health and abilities? How about those of your family and friends?

And what about the blessings of life’s lessons? The ones that teach you flexibility, time management, money management, people skills, thankfulness, selflessness, patience, discipline, self-control, priorities, hope, the value of others, the extent of your personal knowledge and wisdom, and faith. Be thankful and remember to learn the lesson because “lesson repeated until lesson learned”.

There are blessings to be found in every day, every experience. It may take some looking, but they are there. Get in the habit of remembering them each night before you go to sleep and thanking God for them.

Who Lives in Your House?

I love being a homeschooling mom! The time I get to spend with my three girls is priceless to me. But, as much as I love being with them, there are times when I'm just trying to survive the day and I can get bogged down with the short term vision of parenting. What's the short term vision of parenting? Any practice or method that makes life easier for me or is more convenient... such as lightening up on a discipline issue or letting a behavior or habit slide or not being persistent in training of a life skill. It's at those times, I really need to dig deep and remember the long term vision. These are not just kids living in my house that I need to manage moment-to-moment. These girls are someone's future wife and mom, and I better make sure they are prepared.

In our culture, parents spend a lot of time planning and investing in their kids academic and professional futures. If we provide the right access to some athletic training, maybe they will get a scholarship. If their grades are high enough, perhaps they will be accepted at the right college. If they are in enough extracurricular activities, they will be considered well-rounded by a future admissions board or employer. Now, I am not saying that we shouldn't be concerned about our kids' ability to sustain themselves and their future families financially. I'm not saying they should not be involved in different pursuits. I am pointing out, though, that we parents pile a lot of resources in those areas never wondering if they will be just as prepared to have a happy, healthy marriage or to be a great parent to our future grandchildren.

Let's face it. We have all heard that few people on their deathbed wish they had spent more time working on their job. Instead they think about their relationships...either remembering fondly or drowning in regret. Let's spend as much, if certainly not more, on preparing our kids for the most important earthly relationships they will have as we do on preparing them for a full time job.

How do we prepare them? Well, how are you doing in your marriage? You are their primary example. Would you wish a marriage like yours onto your kids? Well, that's where they are learning what to expect out of marriage. How do you treat your spouse? How is conflict resolved in your house? Does a serving attitude prevail or a selfish one? They should understand that having a great marriage takes work, so that they don't quit when it's not easy. They should understand that their spouse is their teammate, not their support staff. I recommend books such as The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, Love & Respect by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, The Proper Care and Feeding of Marriage by Dr. Laura Schlessinger. I also have personally enjoyed anything by Elizabeth George -- A Woman After God's Own Heart, A Wife After God's Own Heart, A Mom After God's Own Heart, A Woman's Walk with God. These books will go a long way in giving you a vision of how great marriage can be and some tools on how to get there -- and they have way more useful info than Dr. Phil, Oprah, et al. I don't like to read... or you don't have time to read...or you only like fiction. Isn't the most important earthly relationship you have worth the time invested of getting to understand it better and maybe acquire some insight on how to improve it? If you already have a "good" marriage, don't you want a great one? Don't your kids deserve your efforts at making marriage a priority? What life skills will you be teaching them through your marriage? And, who says you have to devote hours each day reading marriage books? Just spend 15 minutes at a time in it. It will be worth it.

Now, we have the kids enrolled in our own little marriage workshop, preparing them to be great spouses by having front row seats to your wonderful marriage. {Side benefit to all this ("What's in it for me?") -- they will be better prepared to choose great spouses too (aka "in-laws).] Now we have to consider if we have done our job of preparing them to be parents. Again, I ask you how you are doing? Would you want them to treat your grandkids the way you treat your kids? Do you pour time into your kids ... your time ... or keep them so busy with other types of teachers that you don't have a chance to teach your values? Do you teach principles, in word and action and example, holding the bar high for your kids? Do you tolerate bad behavior issues because "it's hard" to be consistent or you are tired? Do you worry about being their friend now ... instead of being their parent? Do your kids know they are a priority or feel like they are a bother? I know that it is a lot of work to be a parent. It takes endurance and vigilance. But take your eyes off the daily grind and recognize that this season in your life is relatively short when considered in the context of your whole life. It will fly by before you know it. Be their parent now ... their friend when they are adults. When the foundation is right, you will get lots of parent-child friendship moments and memories. I recommend any of Dr. James Dobson's books, Say Goodbye to Whining, Complaining, and Bad You and Your Kids! by Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, Shepherding a Child's Heart by Ted Tripp. (Please see previous paragraph for benefits of reading such books.)

One last tool, the most important, to help you is prayer! Pray when you are tired! Pray for the right words and wisdom! Pray for efforts to be rewarded! Pray that you are acting in accordance to God's will! Pray about everything surrounding your marriage, parenting, home, family! Scripture teaches us that He cares about every minute detail in our lives ... so invite Him in. He will help you in preparing your kids for the blessed life He has designed for them.
Now...if I could just my husband to recognize that his three girls will grow up, date and get married someday...